Updated July 2021
Is it just me or have groceries gone up by a lot since the start of the Covid 19 pandemic?
At first, I didn’t notice a huge change…
A couple of things here and there were more expensive, but it made sense that people like me would have to pay more for toilet paper (you know, since minimalists aren’t hoarders at all and Costco was out of TP for months).
But over the past year, I have noticed a gradual climb in my grocery bill.
At first, I wondered if I was the only one noticing a difference.
Then I realized that since I meal plan in such a Crazy Way, I have a fairly homogeneous grocery budget throughout the year.
And because I have been meal planning this way for over 4 years now… I know that my meal plan hasn’t gotten magically more expensive this year.
Which made me think that this was a good time to bring out this old post and do a video about it for the channel!
If you are looking for ways to save money as prices keep going up, you’ve come to the right place.
This post will give you a lot of ideas for how to save money on your grocery bill.
You may be wondering if you cut down on our costs without sacrificing quality, or quantity, or both…
And the answer is: yes, you can! Once you start using the tips and tricks in this article, you can buy your cake and eat it too!
And if you prefer to watch instead of read, check out this video:
37 Ways to Spend Less on Food
1) Set a Grocery Budget
Having a grocery budget is the best way to spend less on food.
But how much should you spend on groceries each month?
Before Covid, we budgeted $100 per person per month for food in our house.
We are able to make this happen by following the tricks outlined in this post.
But since Covid, I have had a hard time getting out of the grocery store without spending at least $150 a week!!
Deciding how much to spend on groceries will depend on several different factors such as your geographic location, your diet, and how much prices have increased in your area since the pandemic.
My recommendation is to start with a small grocery budget to see if you can make it work.
You can always increase your budget, but if you start with a bigger budget, you might not be motivated to shrink it. 🙂
If you don’t have a budget yet, check out my Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Budget and download my Beginner’s Budgeting Checklist to get started!
2) Budget for Groceries Weekly Instead of Monthly
Now that you know what your monthly budget for food is, divide it by 4… and voilà there is your weekly budget.
Why is it best to think of your grocery budget as a weekly budget instead of a monthly budget?
It is easier for your brain to manage and track.
Essentially, it’s just a mental trick!
But it’s a powerful mental trick.
When I focused on my monthly budget, I found it much easier to spend more than my grocery budget on food. That is because after the first shopping trip or two of the month, I wasn’t quite sure how much money I had left to spend.
Having the money “start over” every week makes is much easier for me to see where I’m at in relation to my goal.
3) Start Meal Planning
Meal Planning saves so much time, energy, and of course money!
If you haven’t tried it before, or if you’ve tried it and failed… try, try again.
If you aren’t sure how to harness the power of meal planning, check out How to Begin Meal Planning When You Don’t Know Where to Start, and download my Meal Planning Checklist!
4) Stack Recipes with Similar Ingredients
When you create your Weekly Meal Plan, choose recipes with similar ingredients throughout the week.
This makes shopping easier because you just get larger amounts of each item instead of getting so many different things.
Plus, it ensures that you will use all of the ingredients that you buy instead of having small amounts of ingredients left over to sit in your refrigerator for a week… or month… or longer.
I started saving so much money as soon as I started stacking recipes.
5) Double Your Recipes
Doubling recipes may seem like it would cost more, but it will actually save you money, and here’s why:
When you double a recipe, you don’t have to double every ingredient.
I usually only double the spices and the bulk ingredient(s) and leave everything else the same.
For example: If I were making chili, I would double the spices and the beans, and I would use the same amount of vegetables that I would use for a single recipe.
It makes twice as much food for a fraction of the cost!
I double everything I make. We use our leftovers for lunches every day and for dinner every Thursday evening. (Check out How to Work Leftovers into Your Meal Plan for more details.)
If you don’t like to eat leftovers in the same week, freeze your doubled recipe and you just cooked a meal for your future self. You’re Welcome!
6) Create a Shopping List (And Use It!)
Before you leave your house, check your weekly meal plan and write your shopping list.
Having a shopping list takes out all of the guesswork when you’re at the grocery store.
If you’ve hung out on this blog before, you know that grocery shopping isn’t my favorite hobby, so the least amount of time I can spend at the store the better.
Knowing exactly what I need to get at the grocery store is one of my favorite things about meal planning. (Check out my post The Pros and Cons of Meal Planning for Moms if you want to see if Menu Planning might be beneficial for you.)
Creating a Shopping list is only half of the equation though, you need to remember to take it to the store, use it at the store, and stick to it at the store.
7) Shop At Your House First
When you are making your shopping list, go through each recipe that you are making and check your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer for items that you can use.
You might find that you don’t need to buy any of an ingredient, or you might just need to buy a small amount that you can add to what you already have. (The bulk section is awesome for this, see below!)
This is the most important step when you’re creating a list if you are looking to save money.
Buying things that you already have at home is a waste of money. Don’t be a money-waster!
8) Have a Pantry Week
Most of us have way more in our pantry than we need.
So if you are struggling to shrink your grocery bill, have a pantry week!
Throw out your regular meal plan for the week, and make meals using only the things that you have on hand.
We don’t do this often because I only buy what we will use in a week (aside from having a few staples on hand).
But last week we were able to do this!
Some friends of ours were moving and they had quite a bit in their fridge, freezer, and pantry that they gave to us (yay!).
So I canceled my regular meal plan and rewrote one with the new ingredients.
I went from spending over $150 a week (thanks, Covid) to spending only $50 on some fresh produce!
9) Buy in Bulk
Aside from the produce section, this is where I spend the majority of my time when I grocery shop.
I love the bulk section at my grocery store because I can get everything from whole-grain pasta, to flour, to spices, to health food.
Buying in bulk saves me several cents per pound as opposed to purchasing packaged products.
I also use the bulk section in a way that most people don’t think about (because it kind of goes against the name of the section).
I love using the bulk section to buy tiny amounts of things that I need.
If I need one cup of something that I don’t use very often, I will go to the bulk section and buy one cup of that item.
If I need a spice for a recipe that I will probably not use again (or at least for a while) I will go to the bulk section and buy exactly how much of the spice that I need for the recipe.
Buying spices in bulk saves me so much money.
I’m always amazed when I have to buy a spice in the baking isle because they are out of it in the bulk section or they don’t carry it in bulk. It is usually five times (or more!) as expensive as the spices that I buy in bulk!
To store the spices, I got some spice jars and I just refill them when I go to the store. If I get a spice that I don’t use very often, I just keep the small amount in the bulk bag until I use it.
10) Buy In Season
Buying food that is in season will save money while also helping you eat healthier.
Food is typically the cheapest when it is the freshest. Why would we not want to take advantage of that?!
It is easiest to purchase food in season when you are Meal Planning With the Seasons. Check out my post Your Ultimate Guide to Seasonal Meal Planning if you’d like a step-by-step guide for how to do that.
11) Stock Up In Season
If you like to eat fruit all year long like we do, stocking up and freezing fruit in its respective seasons will save you money.
We live in the Pacific Northwest and seasonal fruit-picking is a hobby of every money-saver in the area.
Starting usually around April or May with strawberries, and ending in October in with apples, there is a constant stream of ripe fruit, ready for the picking.
The girls and I go and pick almost once a week.
We pick enough for us to use all year round, but no more.
Our freezer has to be completely empty by the time strawberry season begins the next year. (More on the reasoning behind this below!)
Sometimes I can find amazing deals on seasonal fruit at the store, too. One year there was a surplus of strawberries and I was able to get several flats for $1 per pound!
12) Buy Generic Brands
Ross and I still laugh about how he didn’t know how to buy generic until we were married.
We would go shopping together (because everyone does that when they’re first married, right?) and he would excitedly grab every box that was brightly colored and had the words “NEW” or “LIMITED TIME” on them and throw them into the cart.
I would then point out the box (that was usually right next to the flashy one, just with less exciting packaging) that featured the exact same thing for a fraction of the price!
We saved a lot of money, simply by switching to generic brands.
Generic brands have the exact same ingredients as the Name Brands, but for much cheaper.
So if you want to save a lot of mulah, make the switch!
13) Buy Large Quantities… Sometimes
Buying larger containers of food will (almost) always be cheaper per ounce.
If we have something that we use a lot, like almond milk, we buy the largest size at the store if it is the cheapest per ounce. (Check those small numbers that tell you the cost per ounce every time, they like to switch things up on you from time to time!)
If something we use a lot is cheaper to buy at Costco, we will buy larger quantities there about once a month. We go through a lot of peanut butter and toilet paper at our house so it makes sense to stock up.
But cheaper per ounce, doesn’t always save you money. If you aren’t able to finish the entire amount before it goes bad, it doesn’t save you money. In that case, buying a smaller quantity will save you more money than getting a large container than you can’t finish in time.
14) Only Buy What You Will Eat in a Week
Aside from our seasonal stash in our freezer, and our large quantities of peanut butter, we only buy what we will eat each week.
This saves money because you are eating everything you purchase instead of purchasing things just in case you are in the mood for it at some point in the future.
15) Shop at Cheap Grocery Stores
These days we have a lot of options for where we can buy our food.
If you are looking to save money, find the cheapest place to get your groceries and shop there.
If you don’t know where your cheapest place to find groceries is, do a test.
Have an identical Meal Plan for four consecutive weeks and buy your groceries and the four stores that you think might have the best prices.
At the end of the month, compare and start sopping at the cheapest place!
(Just be sure that you bought everything the same each week of the test.)
For us, the cheapest grocery store is WINCO. They don’t accept credit cards, you have to bag your own groceries, and it isn’t fancy, but it gets the job done and is a lot cheaper than the other options around us.
If you don’t have a WINCO near you, find another discount grocery store like Aldi or SuperSaver.
Sometimes you just have to do a little looking around!
16) Grate/Chop/Cut/Bag Your Own Food
Any time that someone else preps the food for you, you will pay extra.
This includes grated cheese, baby carrots (yes, they are the same thing as big carrots, just cut smaller!), cut Brussels sprouts, bagged apples, and the list goes on.
Instead of looking at the pre-packages salads, try making a salad yourself.
Placing fruit and vegetables into a bag instead of getting the pre-bagged ones will always save you money . (Almost always. Be sure to price check because you never know when those bagged items will be on sale.)
A little extra work in the short run will save you money in the long run!
17) Don’t Buy Drinks
If you have a problem going over your food budget, stop buying drinks.
Drinks may not seem expensive, but they can really add up over time.
If your kids don’t like drinking water, check out my post 9 Simple Ways to Get Your Kids to Drink More Water.
18) Only Buy Organic If You Can Afford It
Yes, I know that buying organic food is usually the right thing to do.
But here’s the thing, it’s also the most expensive thing to do.
If buying organic is important to you, but it’s also hurting your wallet, you can try doing one of these things:
1. Only Buy Organic If You Can Afford It.
Remember when we made that grocery budget above? That’s going to come in handy now.
Our weekly grocery budget is $100. But if I know that I will probably only be spending $50 on a given week because we have a lot of leftover ingredients from last week, or we spent some time at my parent’s house, I will buy more organic ingredients on that grocery trip than I normally would.
But when I need to buy more ingredients, I stick with the standard ones.
2. Only Buy Organic for the Dirty Dozen
Another alternative is to only buy organic for the dirty dozen foods. These foods tend to have the highest pesticide levels, so some people will buy organic for them, while buying everything else not organic.
3. Continue Buying Organic and Lower Your Budget in Another Area
If you want to continue to buy organic and can’t seem to lower your food budget enough in any other way, you may need to lower your budget in another area.
Can you drive a less expensive vehicle? Only put your children into one extracurricular activity instead of two? Lower your insurance payments?
Ultimately, something somewhere will have to give if you need to save money or avoid going into debt.
If you need a list of other ways you can cut expenses when you’re living on a low budget, check out 10 Frugal Living Tricks for Saving Money.
19) Don’t Buy at Eye Level
Typically, grocery stores put the most expensive items at eye level.
They want you to purchase them, so they want you to see them first.
Looking above or below the most convenient items will usually save you money.
20) Use Ibotta
I was never a coupon person… until a friend who is always looking for a good deal got me hooked on Ibotta.
Ibotta is essentially a free coupon app that helps you get deals for things that you are already buying. Cha-ching!
All you have to do is download the app. In the app, you can search for deals by store and add the deals to your list. Once you purchase the item, just upload a picture of your receipt and it will take care of the rest!
You can even earn money by shopping online, as long as you go through Ibotta.
The only catch is that you have to get $20 to cash out. But there are so many items that have coupons on them that it doesn’t take long at all.
Usually, there is at least one coupon for each store that is “any item.” This means that as long as you purchase anything, you can redeem it.
21) Grocery Shop Once a Week
If you limit your trips to the grocery store to only once a week you will spend less on groceries.
Every time you set foot inside a store, you increase the likelihood that you will buy something you didn’t need… usually just because it was on sale or it looked good at the time.
By limiting the number of times that you shop each week, you will save money.
22) Don’t Buy Single-Use Items
I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again:
Single-use products will waste your money!
Single-use products are anything that is designed to be used once, then thrown away.
I’m looking at you, plastic sandwich bags, paper napkins, and paper towels!
Even if you buy paper towels at Costco, you could save over $40 a year if you stopped using paper towels alone and switched to using cloth towels instead.
That may not seem like much, but if I handed you $40 right now, what would you do with it? Would you wipe up the juice your toddler spilled, or would you spend it on something just a little bit nicer than that?
Ways to Save:
1. Swap your paper towels for regular dishcloths or paperless towels.
2. Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins. (But keep the paper napkins that you get with takeout and use them on road trips or when you are out and about!)
We’ve been using ours for about 9 years now and they are still as good as new!
3. Reuse your plastic freezer and sandwich bags until they cannot be used anymore.
Just scrub them with a little soap and prop them upright on your faucet and/or soap dispenser to dry… good as new!
The next time you run out of plastic bags and need to buy more, consider bags that are made to be reused like these.
4. Try replacing parchment paper with a Silicone Baking Mat to cut down on waste and cost in the long run.
23) Buy Seconds
If you buy groceries from farmer’s markets, farm stands, or fruit farms you can usually find “seconds” which are much cheaper than “firsts.”
What are seconds? Seconds are fruit or vegetables that have visual imperfections or are smaller or larger than the preferred size.
I remember getting apple seconds from orchards when I was growing up and the only problem with them was that they were too big. (I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an apple being too big, but apparently, there is!)
They tasted exactly like the apples that were smaller. Shocking, I know.
Occasionally seconds may be a little overripe (which is perfect for juicing) or under riper (they will ripen if you sit them on the counter for a few days).
Buying seconds is a great way to save money while still getting high-quality produce.
24) Eat Simple Breakfasts
At our house, we eat the same quick, simple, and healthy for breakfast every day of the week except for Sunday.
Eating simple breakfasts will keep your Meal Planning simple, it will make your mornings easy, and it will save you money.
Check out my post How to Get Started Planning Quick, Healthy Breakfasts for 20 easy weekday breakfast ideas.
25) Eat Your Leftovers
Throwing away expired food is a waste of money.
An easy way to reduce the amount of money (and food!) that you waste is to put leftover days into your Meal Plan.
In our house, we eat leftovers every day for lunch and for dinner on Thursdays.
For more ideas on eating your leftovers, check out How to Work Leftovers Into Your Meal Plan.
26) Make Your Own Bread
Buying any brand of decent bread at the grocery store is crazy expensive. And not only is it expensive, but it’s also still full of ingredients that I can’t pronounce and don’t recognize.
Making your own bread saves money and is a fun activity to do with your kids!
Check out 10 Reasons to Make Bread With Your Kiddos if you need additional inspiration to break out the mixer this weekend!
27) Check Unit Prices
The large numbers that you see on the shelves are the price for the entire item or container that you are buying.
But if you want to know which item is cheaper, you have to look at the small numbers that are usually below the large ones.
This tells you how much you are paying per ounce, or per individual piece.
This is the only way to know which option is the least expensive.
28) Compare Prices EVERY TIME
Maybe this isn’t true for all grocery stores, but at ours, they change the prices frequently, and the cheapest brand changes from time to time.
The cheapest almond milk is different almost every week! Sometimes it’s the largest container that you can buy, sometimes it is a smaller one, and sometimes it is a completely different brand.
Just because something is cheaper one time when you visit the grocery store doesn’t mean it will be the next time.
29) Don’t Buy Impulse Items
Everything next to the checkout is placed there to make you spend a little bit more money… even if you hadn’t planned on it.
If you really want chips and candy, go to the chip and candy aisle and get a much better deal. If you really need that drink, go back to the drink aisle and get twice as much for half the cost. If you forgot to write gum on your list, go back to the candy aisle and get three packs for the price of one at the register.
But whatever you do, don’t buy impulse items.
30) Make Your Own Detergent and Hand Soap
Another great way to save money at the grocery store is by making your own laundry detergent and hand soap.
I make a double recipe of Mom’s Super Laundry Sauce every 6 months (or less!). And that is with doing between five and six loads a week (see my full laundry routine in my post How to Solve the Laundry Problem).
This detergent is incredibly cheap to make and you only use one tablespoon per load.
All you need to make a batch is:
Super Washing Soda: One box will make several batches of soap.
Borax: One box will make several batches of soap.
Fels Naptha Laundry Soap Bar: One bar for each batch.
Buying hand soap can also cost a lot of money at the grocery store, especially if you want to buy one without all the extra chemicals.
About a year ago, my friend, Karli, shared her hand soap recipe with me and I haven’t looked back.
When I was purchasing soap, I was needing to buy one every month or two. After the initial purchase of the ingredients to make my own, I haven’t had to purchase anything since.
All you need to make it is:
Dr Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap: 2 TBSP per batch
Xanthan Gum: 1/8 – 1 tsp per batch depending on how thick you like your soap. I use 1 tsp because I like thicker soap.
Cold Water: 1/2 Cup
Hot Water: 1/2 Cup
To make it, just whisk the Xanthan Gum into the very Hot Water until it is dissolved. Then whisk in the Castile Soap and Cold Water.
31) Pay Attention at Checkout
Sometimes advertised prices are not reflected at checkout. Be sure to keep an eye out for anything that looks a little strange.
Several times I have had to ask the checker about the price and they will typically send someone back to check.
Just this last week, someone punched in the wrong number for an item and it would have cost me $15 more if I hadn’t caught it!
Always check your receipt after shopping if the final number seems off to you.
32) Eat More Veggies
Eating more vegetables and less meat and dairy will save plenty of money at the grocery store. Money.com says that true vegetarians save about $750 per year!
33) Plant a Garden
While you’re eating more vegetables, start a garden!
Growing your food yourself is the cheapest (and highest quality) way to get more produce into your diet.
Grab a regional gardening book (I like this one if you live in the Pacific Northwest) and get started!
34) Use Your Own Bags
Where we live, stores charge you 5 cents per bag at the checkout if you don’t bring your own grocery bags.
If you purchase your own grocery bags, not only does it save you money in the short run, but at one of the stores we like to shop at, they will actually give you 5 cents for every bag that you bring in to use!
I know that 5 cents per bag doesn’t seem like a lot either way, but it adds up! I use 5 of my reusable grocery bags every time I go to the grocery store, so over the course of the 2 years that I have had them, I have made $26!
35) Store Your Food Properly
Everything lasts longer if you store it properly. Check out this article to find out where you should store common food.
36) Have a Small Amount of Staples
I keep condiments and things that I use every week, like milk, eggs, and peanut butter in stock. But I’m careful not to go overboard.
Keeping too many things in your refrigerator without a plan to consume them will waste money. Having too many things on hand increases the likelihood that something will get lost in the fridge and go bad before it is eaten.
In the pantry, I keep a few staples like dried beans, lentils, rice, flour, and honey at all times. But on a weekly basis, I only purchase what we will be using that week (unless I run out of one of the staples.)
If we needed to, we could live out of our pantry for a couple of weeks on the beans and lentils. But having an overstuffed pantry isn’t any better than having a cluttered fridge is for your wallet.
If you have a pantry that is completely full of food that you don’t plan on eating in the next week or two, then you have money sitting on your shelf for an indefinite amount of time.
Not only that, but you probably have food that has been expired hiding out at the back of your shelves.
37) Declutter Your Fridge, Pantry, and Freezer
If you have too much food in your refrigerator, it is hard to know what food is good, what food has expired, and what food is stuck in the far corner that will never be seen again.
If you declutter your fridge, then regularly stay on top of it, you will be more likely to eat the food that you buy before it goes bad.
Aside from the condiments in the door, and the peanut butter from Costco, I don’t have more than one week’s work of food in the refrigerator.
Except for special circumstances, our refrigerator is empty, aside from the condiments, before I go shopping again.
How do you declutter your pantry without wasting money?
Go through your pantry and decide which food is still edible and decide if you will actually eat it.
Throw away everything that is expired. Everything that is still good but you don’t have any intention of eating, donate to a food pantry.
Now, for the next week, or two, or three plan your meals around the food that you already have sitting in your pantry.
Once you have your pantry decluttered, keep only what you are eating on a weekly basis, plus a small amount of food for emergencies.
Aside from that, keep your money in your pocket.
The freezer is the easiest place for people to lose food forever.
Especially if you have a chest freezer, whatever occupies the bottom third of the freezer will most likely never see the light of day again.
That’s why I only allow food to sit around in my freezer for one year at the most. By strawberry season, everything must be consumed, or I won’t pick as much in the coming months.
This ensures that we don’t waste any money for food that will only be used as a shelf for the food that is placed on top of it.
We keep track of how much we pick of each fruit each year and that helps us know how much to pick the following year depending on when we ran out.
Don’t buy food that’s just going to live in your freezer and never be used!
If you need to declutter your freezer. Take inventory just like you did in the pantry. Toss expired and freezer-burned items, and use the rest in your meals for the next month or two until you have your freezer stash down to a manageable amount.
If you’d like more details on how to declutter, check out How to Declutter Your Home: 10 Steps for Getting Started Today.
38) Organize Your Fridge, Pantry, and Freezer
Once you have the clutter down to a minimum, organize your refrigerator, pantry, and freezer so you can easily find what you are looking for.
Designate different shelves for different items.
I always keep my leftovers at eye level to be sure they are seen and eaten. Condiments go in the door. New food that is to be used for cooking that week goes on the bottom shelf. And I store bread and eggs on the top shelf.
Go with whatever feels natural for you… just be sure that you tell your family so you don’t end up fixing it every day.
Each basket has specific things that go in it.
I use one basket for everything I will be cooking with in the coming week, one for tea, one for chips (we mostly eat unprocessed, but corn chips are my weakness!), one basket for hiking snacks, one for baking items like cocoa powder and shredded coconut, and one basket for food storage items like tin foil and baggies.
Keeping the pantry organized dramatically cuts down the time it takes for me to make a shopping list.
I have two main rules for organizing my freezer:
1. Never put something different on top or in front of something else.
So peaches can’t go in front of or on top of blueberries. They each get their own stack or shelf.
2. Never put something new on top of or in front of something old. The something old will sit there forever, and ever, amen. I promise.
You will save money if you take a little bit of time to put the old things in front of the new because it makes sure that you eat the old stuff first.
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- Create Savings Accounts
- Donate to Charity
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And if you Want to Learn More About Meal Planning…
Then check out Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning!
In Set-it-and-Forget-it Meal Planning, you will learn how to
- Create a Breakfast Rotation
- Create a Lunch Rotation
- Create a Snack Rotation
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Plus you will receive the Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning Workbook and Spreadsheet and email support from me anytime you have questions.
I hope to see you inside the course!
(Or if you are more of a do-it-yourself kind of gal, you can check out my DIY Meal Planning Resources!)
You May Also Like…
If you’d like more money-saving ideas, visit 10 Frugal Living Tricks for Saving Money.
If you’re ready to start budgeting, read How to Start Budgeting: A Beginner’s Guide to Creating a Budget, Cutting Costs, and Saving Money next.
Be sure to get your budget started on the right foot by checking out The Secret to Sticking With Your Budget From The Start.
And if you want to get started with Meal Planning, How to Begin Meal Planning When You Don’t Know Where to Start, will get you going!